Explain the role(s) of aristocratic women in Roman history.

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Politically, women were forbidden to openly display their power in public, that is, they could only exercise power behind-the scenes. According to the historian, Bill Leadbetter, the level of indirect power reached levels never imagined during the Republican Period. However, the wives of emperors were able to exercise great political influence- as seen in the case of Agrippina the Younger, Messalina and Livia.

Tacitus revealed the character of Livia in The Annals when he wrote that she was a "complaisant wife well matched with the cunning of her husband and the hypocrisy of her son". Inscriptions such as "to Livia Augusta, the Goddess of the town" in a book entitled "Fasti" shows her importance during the reign of Augustus. However, Tiberius resented her position, according to Leadbetter, where his "sense of tradition and propriety rebelled" and Tiberius was not ready for a "queen mother". Livia's conflict with Tiberius is believed to have arisen from her desire to continue to exercise the role of adviser and aid to a son who was "embarrassed" by her prominence.

Valeria Messalina was more notorious than Livia since historians portrayed her as a "sex-maniac" and a "brazen nymphomaniac". She formed amicitus relationships with Lucius Vitellius, Narcissus and the orator, Sullius Rufus. According to Koutsoukis, Messalina enjoyed the prospect of power through being an empress (her husband being the emperor, Claudius) and she was believed to have dominated Claudius through her amicitus relationships.

Not only this, Messalina engaged in a string of adulteries including her affair with a senator named Appius Silanus and Caius Silius. When Appius rejected her advances, she denounced him to Claudius as a conspirator against his life, leading Claudius to execute the unfortunate man. Also, she denounced many other important men who offended her in some way- all suffering the...